‘Gravity’ is stellar

By Frank Ruggiero (frank@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Oct. 10, 2013 | Modified: Oct. 10, 2013
‘Gravity’ is stellar

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in ‘Gravity.’

In space, no one can hear you scream.

But they can see you wince and grip your armrests.

“Gravity,” without a doubt, is one of the most harrowing, yet beautifully filmed, dramatic thrillers to hit the silver screen.

It’s also Alfonso Cuarón’s first film since 2006’s exceptional “Children of Men,” and, in those seven years, the director has managed to refine his visionary style, including those spellbinding elements that made his previous effort so remarkable.

Beautiful cinematography from Cuarón’s frequent collaborator, Emmanuel Lubezki (“Y Tu Mamá También”), complements some of the best computer-generated special effects ever committed to film.

Throw in a simple, yet effective plot, minimal dialogue and superb performances from an unconventionally small cast, and you’ve got a film that bucks the blockbuster stereotype and is something uniquely its own.

Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”) and George Clooney (“Burn After Reading”) are astronauts Stone and Kowalski, respectively, in the midst of a spacewalk to conduct repairs on the Hubble telescope.

As Earth majestically looms behind them, we learn this is Stone’s first foray into space, as well as veteran Kowalski’s last. Soon-to-be-retiring Kowalski oversees the procedure, while admiring the view, as Stone works diligently on her repairs — only to be interrupted by an urgent call from mission control (voiced by Ed Harris, in a nice nod to 1995’s “Apollo 13”).

It would seem the Russians have self-detonated an old satellite, unwittingly causing its debris to collide with other satellites and create a field of faster-than-a-speeding-bullet space shrapnel.

But the warning is too little, too late, as Stone and Kowalski’s shuttle is bombarded, torn to shreds and sent spiraling out of control, setting the two spacewalkers adrift. With communication satellites effectively wiped out, the astronauts have no way to communicate with mission control — or anyone but themselves, for that matter — and must rely on each other and the most desperate of plans if they’re to survive the day and make it home.

The basic plot — survive — is simplistically straightforward and, when combined with marginal casting and a tight 90-minute runtime, makes “Gravity” seem like a minimalist film, even though its production was obviously anything but.

All of the action takes place in zero gravity, with the bulk of it in open space, and never once does the computer-generated imagery seem phony. On the contrary, it seems tangible, with Cuarón and company presenting a level of realism that’s missed on almost every CGI-laden blockbuster that’s ever been. It’s an incredible display, with the inhospitable environment of space playing as big a role as the characters.

Much of this is thanks to Lubezki’s cinematography, which, as in “Children of Men,” delivers the action in a series of long, mesmerizing, continuous takes, including “Gravity’s” memorable opening, which clocks in at seamless 17 minutes.

An astounding 3-D presentation also helps. Cuarón makes wise use of the technology, using it to complement and add to the story, while embracing viewers and pulling them in. It’s probably the most effective use of 3-D since Werner Herzog’s 2010 documentary, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”

Of course, some three-dimensional characters never hurt, either, and Cuarón mostly delivers in that department, as well. Clooney brings his usual charm and charmisa to the cosmos, both of which are nothing new, but fit perfectly with his role. It’s Bullock, though, whose stellar performance conveys more with a single look or labored breath than any of her dialogue.

It’s a tour de force performance, and in zero G (or the studio equivalent), that can’t be easy.
“Gravity,” rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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